David Millage

I have written previously of the Democratic Party’s attempts to undermine Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses by turning them into what looks like a primary. Another proposal being advanced by some of the Democratic candidates for president is to have a national vote for president where the winner of that vote is elected.

Currently, when we cast our vote for president, we are voting for electors pledged to the different candidates. The Republican Party and the Democratic Party select electors to vote for their respective candidate. The people vote for a set of electors pledged to that party’s candidates. When I voted for Donald Trump in 2016, I voted for electors selected by the Republican Party to vote for him. The Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton voted for electors pledged to her. Trump won Iowa because more people voted for his electors than for Clinton's electors. This is essentially a statewide popular vote.

The electors are part of the Electoral College. The college is composed of 538 electors. Each state is awarded electors based upon the number of House and Senate seats in Congress. Each state has two Senate seats, and the House seats are based upon population. Iowa has six electoral votes. It takes 270 electoral votes to elect a president. Therefore, a candidate must cobble together enough states to reach 270 electors. This requires a candidate to campaign in small states such as Iowa to reach that 270 total.

Normally, abolishing the Electoral College and having a national vote would require a constitutional amendment. A constitutional amendment requires a vote of two-thirds of both houses of Congress and three-quarters, or 38, of the states. It is felt that small states, such as Iowa, would never support such a proposal. It is believed that a national popular vote would free candidates from spending time in small states and would instead focus on large urban areas where most of the voters are.

Issues important to small states would be placed on the back burner as candidates focus their message and time on urban voters. Iowa would truly be "flyover" country.

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Since a constitutional amendment is thought unlikely, some Democrats are supporting a proposal called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This is an agreement by the states to award electoral votes to the declared winner of the national vote. Under such a proposal, in 2016, Iowa’s six electoral votes would have been awarded to Hillary Clinton, even though Trump won this state by a healthy margin.

Can the states do this? Article II, Section I, of the Constitution provides that the state legislatures determine the manner in which the Electoral College electors are chosen. Presumably, the state legislature could direct that the electors chosen by the voters must vote for the person who received the most votes in the nation. Thus, even though I voted for the electors pledged to Donald Trump and he received the most votes in Iowa, the Clinton majorities in other states would cancel my vote.

This is no more than a back-door approach to amend the Constitution. The framers of the Constitution were very careful in protecting the rights of smaller states to prevent a tyranny of the majority. The Electoral College protects against regionalization and fraud. The fraud in the vote in one state would not affect the vote in another state.

This proposal provides that it becomes effective when states representing 270 electoral votes enact it. This is the number needed to elect the president. At this time, states representing 196 electoral votes have passed this compact. However, there is a question of whether this compact is constitutional. This is a question we should not be required to face. The country should debate the pros and cons of a direct vote for president. There are too many issues to discuss here but, in any event, we should not change the way we elect a president through a sneaky back door approach that has not gone through public debate.

The Electoral College has been proven effective in encouraging a just, stable and free government — a government that protects the rights of its citizens. We need to preserve it and we need to help our fellow Americans understand why it matters.

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David Millage is a lawyer and former Iowa legislator who now is chairman of the Scott County Republican Party. Voices of the Quad-Cities, a weekly column featuring local writers, appears on Tuesdays.